Why corn is king for me


Active Member
I know that there is a mixed review of corn on this forum, some like it, some don't. I promised (threatened lol) on another thread that I would post about why I feel like it is one of the best things I can plant for a food plot. So here goes nothing!

In Nebraska alone, there is about 9.8 million acres of it grown annually. It creates almost a literal forest, a deer could walk through it for miles without being seen, which is utilized quite a bit by deer for food and cover once it reaches about knee to waist high. Deer will eat the leaves when its small, then they will eat the tassel while its still in the whorl, they will eat the ears when they are young, and again when the ears have dried up. As cover, bucks love it, because it is almost impossible to sneak through without making noise. They often feel extremely safe, every year you hear about someone getting one caught in a corn head on the combine, so apparently they feel safe enough not to run from a huge extremely noisey machine. Its not uncommon for guys to carry a rifle in the combine with them during season and quite a few have been shot off the platform of one. Actually you could easily judge the amount of deer killed every year by the amount of corn that is still in the field.

Corn is widely adapted, fairly heat, drought, and grazing tolerant, and relatively easy to plant. It is also pretty herbicide tolerant, even the non GMO hybrids which makes it a decent choice for new ground. Some downsides are that it does take a fair amount of nutrients, and some say is too expensive. Others say that it doesn't provide as much feed per acre as others species. Some of the other upsides are that its height makes a great screen or even to lead deer under a stand, and no one can deny that it is the best late winter food for deer. A mature standing field of corn can withstand some extremely strong winds, will catch a ton of snow to provide free moisture the next year, and gives the deer access to a food source that they don't have to dig for when the snow is 2-3 ft deep.

So to address some of the negatives. As for being too expensive, I wont disagree that it is one of the more costly but I still think its not as bad as some feel. I get expensive hybrid corn for free when we clean out the planter or switch hybrids. Which is a great option for some, if you have a friend that's a farmer, offer to help him clean out his planter and get it ready for storage in exchange for some seed. You can get $200-300 a bag corn for a little work. Another option would be some of the lesser known companies. Ive heard that you can get seed corn from Rural King for around $150 I think. A final option is to go with a non GMO corn from a place like Albert Lea seeds. I think a bag is around $130. A lot of the hybrids from these companies are the same as the big ones or at least from the same genetics, think of them as the generic versions. They will usually perform right with or sometimes outyeild the big ones.

Seed corn is bagged by the seed count, 80,000 seeds per bag, the smaller the seed the lighter the bag, bigger seed is heavier. Ive seen bags from 45lbs to 65lbs. When planting corn, it prefers rows with row widths from 18" to 40" with 30" being the most common. Normal seeding rates differ in different regions but 15K to 35K is normal. You could go higher or lower but overall yield will suffer and weed control gets harder as population goes down. Here we plant dryland anywhere from 20-25K and irrigated is 30-32K. So a single bag of corn planted at 20K per acre would plant 4 acres or could be used to plant 3 years of 1 acre (you would up the seeding rate because the seed is older). So in reality its not as expensive as one might think.
Excellent write-up, BBT! :)

When I think of corn being "expensive", it is not just the seed, but the means to plant it effectively and the N inputs required for it to thrive. That's why the 7:1 ratio of soybeans to corn, lightly disced in, is so appealing to me, as a food-plotter. You get a lot of the benefits, with less cost to plant (seed, equipment, nutrients). Also, deer feel secure in this type of planting, but they are still quite "huntable". I have been in parts of north-central Indiana where it's almost pointless to hunt before most of the corn is off.
Part 2:

As to the nutrient requirements of corn, it can handle a fairly wide range of PH but it's gonna suffer as you go closer towards either end. As long as your other minerals are fairly balanced it will do reasonably well.
But like all grass it likes quit a bit of N, a good rule of thumb is 1lb per bushel goal. So 100lbs for 100bu, so on and so forth. If your stars line up it can do more on less but that's a fairly good rule to follow, especially if you want to plant a brassica behind it, there will still be enough for it using the 1lb rule.

As to not being a high producer of feed/acre, corn doesn't do too bad, it's hard to put on paper how much is eaten during the growing season but "here" with timely rains and enough N, 175bu/acre can be achieved on dryland with about 125 lbs on N, highest we've ever raised on dryland was about 200bu, which shouldn't be a problem for those to the east of me.
As for total tons of feed, that can be amended pretty easily, if you think of your plot vertically and not horizontally. Quite alot of research has been done to interseeding cover crops into standing corn early, to help get them growing faster and longer in the fall. This is exactly what food plotters need to be thinking about, growing a companion crop with the corn, basically doubling your acreage, and can reduce the amount of inputs you use.

A few of the most popular species that interseed well onto corn are ones that food plotters know well, crimson clover, radishes and purple top turnips.

Another one that has been tried somewhat and that I'm pretty excited about is cowpeas, the idea is that the peas will use the corn as a trellis and climb up the stalk as they both grow together. This can also provide quite a bit of your N requirement either yet in the current year, or in the next, I haven't quite figured that part out yet.

Another species that a food plotters could use that wouldn't work so well in production farming would be sunn hemp.

The idea is this, plant the corn and then once it passes it critical weed free period, which is the period during which corn does not like any competition, basically from emergence to about V5 or V6, which I can explain if someone wants me to. Then go in and either broadcast or modify a regular drill to seed the cover down in between the rows.
So in a sense, you're getting 2 acres of food plot in 1, the corn will help to take some of the grazing pressure off the clover or cowpeas, and for me at least it provides both food and cover that the deer are used to using and feel comfortable in after the crops are harvested, for a fairly low amount of $.

So for those of you still following along, here's a breakdown of general costs for an acre.
Seed- $37.5 ($150/bag) (20k population)
100lbs of N- it varies by area
Chemicals- $10-15 acre at the most
30lbs of cowpeas- $30-40

Using the high end of the figures and leaving out the cost of the N I come up with $92.50. Sounds like a lot but I know a lot of guys say it's cheaper to buy corn and feed it. In my area, with normal rains that combo there would raise 150bu/acre easily, cash corn for me to sell is $3.35/bu by the time it's bagged I'd guess it's about $4 for 50lbs so to buy that 150bu of corn it's gonna cost $600. Plus you get the extra feed from the cowpeas, they also keep the weeds down and help increase the soil biology.

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I'm a big believer in corn. I love it. However, it costs about $400 an acre here in SC to make it worthwhile. Even at that price I think it's worth it.
Part 3
So finally I want to exactly what I've done so far and put some pictures up, cuz what fun is a thread without pictures??

This year I planted 1 acre of soybeans and 1 acre of corn, with another acre left for my fall plot. The corn plot had 100lbs of dry N spread on about 2 weeks before planting

Pic 1. All were planted in 36"rows with our White planter, everything got 15gal/acre of our standard starter blend which is 10gal of 10-34-0 and 5 gal of 32% plus some zinc in a 2x2 band. This was leftover from planting. This was planted June 4 which is over a month behind normal for this area.

Pic 2. It looks like Christmas threw up in here! I ment to grab the leftover drought tolerant bag but instead I grabbed the mixed bag, it's the leftovers from a couple custom jobs we did, the green and purple was RIB corn, refuge in bag, and the other wasn't, but it is all supposed to be good on dryland. Doesn't really matter for what I'm doing anyway. Long story short, I thought I had enough seed for 20K but I started to doubt that I would, so I filled one row with beans and the other 5 with corn and set it for 15k which is a little low but should allow for plenty of light for the cowpeas.

Pic 3. This was taken July 1, as you can see I had a slight weed pressure from some bindweed mostly this whole farm has it so I sacrifed a good amount of my beans to spray them with 24D and make sure it was dead. Beans at 15k don't do so well anyways.

Pic 4. The old rule of thumb was "knee high by the 4th of July" and were just barely gonna make it!

Pic 5-7 As you can see, where there wasn't the bindweed, it's looking darn good for getting less than 1" on it since it was planted. The blank spaces are where the soybean row should be.

Pics 8&9 shows some browsing, the deer love the tender leaves

Pics 10&11 this is how tough a young corn plant really is and how much browsing the can actually take and still live. This wasn't done by deer though, it was a bigger 4 legged critter, a few cows got out one day and decided the small corn makes a darn good snack. It looked alot worse than this a few days ago, but it all will live, might not make much grain but should get up decently. This was planted the day before mine, but it's easily outpaced it, but it's irrigated, just shows how much difference a little water makes.

I will continue to update this throughout the year, thanks for reading guys.

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What herbicides do you use to stay so weed free? My current program includes glyphosate for grass and broadleafs and Permit for nutsedge, and it works well but doesn't last. Does anything offer residual control?
This was mostly brome sod that I disked up a couple times this spring, then run the cultimulcher over it to smooth it out and incorporate the dry N. Then it was just a 3oz/gal Rup and 3oz/gal 2-4D at 10-12gal to the acre. The 2-4D will give you a little residual, but theres not much that will allow you to come back with the cowpeas. Callisto is another that will give you good broadleaf residual and a fairly short turnaround for peas but there is little burndown without adding something like Rup or 2-4D. Now if you just want to keep it clean there are quite a few options, I would talk to someone who does alot of spraying in your area. This is assuming you have RR corn to begin with, non GMO gets a little trickier but can be done.
I love the one/two punch corn gives you with food and cover. Isn't always the easiest to hunt, but certainly draws the deer in come Nov/Dec around my area.

Not always easy, so you gotta hunt the one thing they usually cant get in the field, water. Also a guy could split it up, say 4 rows of corn then 4-6 of beans alternated across the field, should give plenty of security.
Great thread Bigblue. Liked the numbers breakdown of seed amounts and costs. Corn not much real option for limited planting for me thanks to coons and bear, but I have planted it throw and mow for screen. Did you soil test this plot you show and what were the starting numbers?
No I didnt, but we farm the fields around it and they get soil tested, and I have a fairly good idea on what this ground needs and amounts. Luckily because of the high clay base we dont leach much for nutrients, even N will stay put fairly well. Id have to look at the tests from the field tomorrow.
I did find the reccomendation sheet from our agronomist, I'd have to do some digging to find the actual soil tests. This farm would be the bottom 2 lines.

The main fields are a little low in phos, but these were sown to alfalfa in 2001 I think and were continuous until 2012 and 2013. Next spring we will probably put down 100lbs of 11-52-0 to fix them bit where my food plot is shouldn't need that.

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I agree...corn is king to me as well. Everything eats corn - deer, turkey, doves, ducks. The cover that it provides is definitely an added bonus. I really like to rotate corn after a clover or alfalfa plot has "run its course". As far as herbicides go....atrazine is the way to go. It's inexpensive and effective. You can use it at planting or post. Here is a no-till corn plot into alfalfa:

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There are some options, from my research, Impact and Laudis are 2 but I've never used them so you'll need to talk to someone more knowledgeable than me.

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Not always easy, so you gotta hunt the one thing they usually cant get in the field, water. Also a guy could split it up, say 4 rows of corn then 4-6 of beans alternated across the field, should give plenty of security.
My best plot ever was staggered 2 rows corn, 2 rows beans. It looked funny but was about as bullet proof a summer annual plot as I have ever had. I even walked the bean rows and broadcast some cereal grains and brassica into those as well. Now - I do this and can get away with it because I have low deer numbers and 100's of acres of beans and corn around to reduce the pressure.
My best plot ever was staggered 2 rows corn, 2 rows beans. It looked funny but was about as bullet proof a summer annual plot as I have ever had. I even walked the bean rows and broadcast some cereal grains and brassica into those as well. Now - I do this and can get away with it because I have low deer numbers and 100's of acres of beans and corn around to reduce the pressure.
Did you plant something similar this year?

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